Marine Cpl. Robert Marcus Rodriguez of Maspeth, Queens, all of 21 years old, was the first serviceman from New York City to die in the Iraq war. That was a few days after the start of combat in March 2003. He was assuredly not the last to be killed. That sad distinction fell in August 2008 to Army Specialist Jorge Luis Feliz Nieve, 26, of Queens Village.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
In between those deaths, 64 other men and 4 women from the city lost their lives in a war that, depending on your politics and temperament, toppled one of the world’s most ruthless tyrants or caused deaths in the many tens of thousands on the basis of fictions about Iraq’s destructive capabilities. Both of those propositions are true.
But the point here is not to rehash the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war. Rather, it is to acknowledge the last full measure of devotion, to borrow from Lincoln, that was given by dozens of young New Yorkers in a conflict that is now, at last, officially over. In Baghdad on Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta presided over a ceremony ending the military mission.
To underline that the end had arrived, President Obama went to Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday to greet returning soldiers and congratulate them for what they had accomplished in a war that he himself opposed from the get-go. “As your commander in chief,” Mr. Obama told them, “and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree: Welcome home.”
Many, of course, never came home from Iraq — nearly 4,500 soldiers, Marines and sailors. More than 1,800 other Americans have been killed in the continuing war in Afghanistan.
The New York City share of that toll is 91 — 70 in Iraq and 21 in Afghanistan — according to figures kept by the mayor’s office. Borough by borough, the tally for both wars is this: Queens – 32; Brooklyn – 30; Manhattan – 16; the Bronx – 11; and Staten Island – 2.
Statewide, 188 New Yorkers have been killed in Iraq, and at least 78 in Afghanistan. The state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs puts the total at about 500. That’s because it includes soldiers from other states who served in the New York National Guard or who had been stationed, for example, at Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, which has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Statistics are surely important, but they tell only part of the story about a decade of war. Behind each number there is a face. Behind each face there is heartbreak. You look at the faces of the dead staring straight ahead for the cameras, and you realize as if for the first time how achingly young they were, many not old enough to buy a drink legally, a few barely eligible to vote.
Several were not even United States citizens. In some instances, they joined the service to improve their chances of speeding up the naturalization process.
Specialist Feliz, the last soldier from the city to die in Iraq, had moved in with relatives here, having left his native Dominican Republic after his father was shot to death. The soldier was killed when his truck went off a cliff in Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Corporal Rodriguez, the first New York casualty, was only 17 when he asked his mother to sign papers that would allow him, as a minor, to enlist in the Marines. “I kept telling him no,” the mother, Amarilys Hernandez, said in a newspaper interview two years ago. But, she said, “he begged me.” Her son died with three other Marines when their tank came under fire and rolled off a bridge into the Euphrates River.
The interview with the mother was conducted for The Daily News by Stephanie Gaskell, now editor of a Web site called The War Report, which is focused on military life at home and abroad. At each Thanksgiving meal, Ms. Gaskell said, Ms. Hernandez sets an extra plate for her son. Each Christmas, she puts a present under the tree for him.
Eight months after Corporal Rodriguez died, a street in Maspeth was named in his honor. But the mother left Queens, and moved to Baldwin, on Long Island. That put her closer to Farmingdale. Pinelawn Cemetery is there, and so is her son.
For more local news, including the death of a 41-year-old woman in an elevator accident, a day in court for some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the deadly toll discarded fishing line exacts on waterfowl in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and a lawsuit by the National Arts Club against its former president, see the N.Y./Region section.
Here is what else City Room is reading.
A summit with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intended to save mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal to allow livery cabs to pick up street hails did not yield an agreement. [Daily News] (Also see The New York Post.)
A Bloomberg administration investigation into how firearms enter New York showed that a high percentage of gun sellers were willing to ship firearms to buyers in the city who admitted they could probably not pass a background check. [Wall Street Journal]
A Quinnipiac University poll shows that Comptroller John C. Liu’s approval rating has plummeted because of an investigation into his campaign finances. [New York Post] (Also see The Daily News and City Room.)
The poll also showed that more New Yorkers approve of Occupy Wall Street than of Mayor Bloomberg. [DNA Info]
Comptroller Liu rejected a contract with the Department of Education that included what he considered an unexplained $20 million increase in the cost of school cleaning. [New York Post]
“Thru-Line,” part of the Make Music Winter Festival, will turn the F train baroque by when musicians play Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major at every stop on the line from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. next Wednesday. [Metro Focus]
The house in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, where a police officer was shot to death on Monday has long run afoul of city ordinances, and its owner has been fined repeatedly. [Daily News]
City health officials blamed banned Ayurvedic health supplements popular among the South Asian population for two nonfatal cases of lead poisoning this year. [Daily News]
Two conventional locomotives, one of which will serve Brooklyn, will be redesigned using low-emissions diesel technology. [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]
Still more bad news for Knicks fans: Time Warner Cable may not be able to work out a new deal with MSG, the network that broadcasts games, when the current contract expires Jan. 1. If the two sides do not reach agreement, Time Warner will not carry the network. [New York Post]
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is running vintage buses from the 1950s and 1960s on the M42 crosstown route from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. until Dec. 23. [Gothamist]